Harmful Park – Sony PlayStation

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The late 1990’s saw a slew of shoot-’em-ups hit both the arcades and home consoles, some good, some bad and some truly awful. The Sega Saturn is renowned for its comprehensive shoot-’em-up library and saw many of the era’s best arcade shmups successfully ported over. The Sony PlayStation also saw some of these arcade titles ported, but, by-and-large saw more in the way of exclusive console only titles to pack out its shmup library, arguably the most famous of which is SquareSoft’s one and only foray into the genre – Einhander.

However, Einhander benefited from securing a release in both North America as well as Japan, ensuring that it did not just become another Japanese only curio for hardcore gamers to “discover” later on down the line. Still, many of the PlayStation’s “exclusive” shoot-’em-ups do fall into the category of a Japan only release and have thus fallen into general obscurity. Mentioning games like Stahlfeder, Two-Tenkaku and Air Grave will probably bring blank responses from many a gamer, as will bringing up Sky Think System’s 1997 release – Harmful Park.

That’s right, that Japanese powerhouse of arcade action Sky Think System, the geniuses behind games like Harmful Park, and, um, Harmful Park. Okay, so they released a couple of obscure puzzle games prior to this, but otherwise Sky Think System’s legacy kind of begins and ends with Harmful Park, which is a damn shame really considering how good Harmful Park is. For what appears to be, on the face of it, Sky Think System’s one and only foray into shmup territory, this is really up there with Einhander as a truly awesome one-hit shoot-’em-up wonder for any given developer.

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Harmful Park is split into six stages, with each stage representing a different area of a large theme park which has been invaded and taken over by a mad-scientist type. Each stage is filled with a variety of wacky enemies to shoot down, with some stages having a mid-stage boss, before reaching the main boss fight for that particular level. There is an incredible number of different enemies that will approach you on your quest, many with their own unique way of attacking you, and each superbly animated and drawn. Some of the larger enemies are very well presented, and very memorable. You certainly won’t forget fighting the giant gorilla, eating bananas, riding on the rear of a train which looks like a cow in a hurry!

To help you defeat the weird and wonderful opposition thrown at you, your character comes armed with no less than four different weapons – a potato gun, a jelly gun, an ice cream laser and a gun that throws pies. No, I am not making this up. Honest.
At the beginning of the game all four weapons are set at level 1 power, and each will level up to a maximum of four when you collect on screen power-up icons. Each weapon must be levelled up individually, adding a bit of strategy into the mix, and if you die the weapon you were using at the time will reset to level one, the other weapons not affected. Each weapon also has its own smart bomb, each of which has a different effect, again adding to the strategy element of the game.

One of the nice things about Harmful Park is its simplicity. You can play for score, there is a score multiplier for chaining successful enemy hits, plus a hefty end of level bonus if you clear 100 per cent of enemies for that particular stage, and there are also green gems and hidden icons to pick up to increase score too. Alternatively, you can just play for fun and enjoy the amazing detail of the sprites and backgrounds while the cheerful background music plays. The only on-going strategy you need to employ is deciding which of the four weapons you wield and how you wish to power them up. After each stage a small animation plays detailing your progress through the “story”, but sadly this is all in Japanese, so I have no idea what they’re saying!

The game defaults to easy difficulty setting, upon which most proficient gamers will glide through the game on a 1CC; however, once you up the difficulty the game starts to bite back, and on the harder settings Harmful Park presents a stern challenge. I quite enjoying playing on easy, it’s an entertaining challenge (nothing more), and it gives you more opportunity to enjoy many of the site gags and little quirks that have been lovingly programmed into the game rather than having to focus on dodging waves of bullets. The sound is of a good quality too, sound effects are spot on with the action unfolding before you, and the background music fits each stage’s area character perfectly.

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In many ways it is a perfect shmup for the more casual shoot-’em-up fan, but the high price for the PlayStation original is likely to shut out this type of gamer, leaving the game to either more hardcore fans of the genre who don’t think twice about dropping big bucks for good games, or the collector who is just going to buy it to fill another space on a dusty shelf. There are, of course, many “rare” and “obscure” games out there that are expensive for just being one or either of those two descriptions, and the games themselves are far from enjoyable to play. Thankfully Harmful Park does not fall into that category, because all though the price of admission is steep, it is worth every penny. However, if you happen to own a PlayStation 3 and can get your hands on a Japanese PSN voucher, you can download Harmful Park from the Japanese PlayStation Store for next to nothing – comparatively of course!

Once you have finished with the main game, there is an in-game option to go back to play for score, and there are also three mini-games also thrown in aimed at multiplayer competition, including support for Sony’s four-player adaptor. Sky Think System certainly try and give you plenty of game for your money!

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Overall this is a cracking horizontal shooter, which is very often, and sadly, overlooked when people look back on the late ’90’s era of shmups. The level of sheer detail, not only in the main on-screen sprites but the backgrounds as well, oozes a quality rarely seen in late 90’s 2D shmups; the love and affection with which this game has been created is very evident, and the gameplay is there to go with it. From my own recollection, this is easily one of the most detailed 2D games I have seen outside of a Neo-Geo game. I would certainly rate Harmful Park above and beyond many of the games it is often compared to such as Konami’s Parodious series, and even the excellent Star Parodier on NEC’s PC Engine CD-ROM.

Harmful Park is easy to get into and enjoy, it will present a good challenge when the difficulty level is cranked up and I would highly recommend it to any fan of the genre if you can look past the price tag.

Harmful Park
Version tested: PlayStation NTSC/J
Also available on: PlayStation 3 (PSN download – Japan only)

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6 comments

  1. Pingback: Call of Cutie – bunnies with a taste for war! | Very Very Gaming
  2. veryverygaming

    P.S. I didn’t noticed it before, but I love the cover art. Clever marketing. Is it a photo? That’s not something you see often at all. And does it have anything to do with the game??

    • peanutbutterjammatime

      The cover is brilliant. Yes, it looks like someone did go to the effort of making a biscuit logo thingy and then took a photo of it! No, funnily enough, it does not appear in the game at all… I don’t remember any pie or biscuit related shenanigans other than the pie gun!

  3. veryverygaming

    Better than Parodius? That’s high praise, but after seeing videos I can understand it – game looks great. Very imaginative and I love the the poof effect when enemies explode. It’s a shame it isn’t available more widely, it’d be great to get my grubby paws on it. Maybe one day. The graphical style and the ship/enemy designs are a bit reminiscent of Air Zonk on the PC Engine.

    I find it hard to believe sometimes that in the heyday of shmups there was not only a sub-genre of parodic send-ups, but also that the quality of some were equal if not higher than the games they were sending up. Makes me hopeful that at some point we’re going to get quality parody FPS/third person shooter games in the future with names like Hall of Cutie: Posts and so on.

    • peanutbutterjammatime

      Ha! A FPS cute ’em up! I like it! I’m surprised no one has already latched on to that idea, but I suppose you could look at Duke Nukem as a kind of parody of the genre… Yes, would definitely take Harmful Park over Parodius (personally), and would highly recommend giving it a blast if you ever get chance. Sadly, it doesn’t look as if the PSX original is going to come down in price anytime soon…

      • veryverygaming

        The idea of a parody FPS has been stuck in my mind since leaving that last comment, so in the end I had to invent one in my head. I wrote a post about it which I’ll link to you here. You’re right, Duke Nukem and Serious Sam probably are the closest things to parody FPSes out there, but they seem more like tongue-in-cheek throwbacks to 80s action films, as opposed to riffing on the videogame genre per se.

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